What Is Cholesterol?
What Does It Mean To You?

What is cholesterol? How important are LDL and HDL? When should you be concerned about it? What about triglycerides? We have the answers you need to lower high choleserol readings.

What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is carried in our bloodstream and is eventually stored in the cells of our bodies. Our bodies then use it in many ways.

Our cholesterol numbers are an indicator of how well balanced our LDL and HDL cholesterol are, along with our triglycerides. Normal cholesterol numbers are just one thing to look at to determine our cardiovascular health.

For information on cholesterol screenings click here.

Why Do I Need Cholesterol?

We have all heard that cholesterol is something we don't want. It builds up in our arteries and eventually leads to a heart attack. We discuss the symptoms and results of high cholesterol here.

Triglycerides are bad for us also. Right? Well that's only part of the story. In reality, we all need cholesterol. Our health would quickly go downhill without it.

What is cholesterol used for in our body? It is used to make bile acids that help in the digestion of fat. It also is used to build certain hormones. We cannot live without cholesterol. It is one of the building blocks for the cells of our heart and brain, nerves and muscles, and throughout our bodies.

One thing we rarely hear about is the fact that our bodies manufacture as much as 75% of our total cholesterol. This means that if we were to remove all cholesterol from our diet, it would affect only 25% of our total cholesterol.

Types Of Cholesterol

So, what is cholesterol and what does it have to do with heart disease?

Our bloodstream includes chemical compounds that carry cholesterol to and from body tissues called lipoproteins. High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) carries cholesterol to the liver to be eliminated, while Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) carries cholesterol to the tissues.

HDL is considered the "good" cholesterol. A good way to remember this is to think "high" when we read the "H" in HDL. Higher is better for HDL. Lower is better for LDL.

The idea of "good" or "bad" cholesterol is due to the effect HDL or LDL cholesterol has on arteries. The heart pumps blood through arteries. The blood returns to the heart through veins. In order for the heart to work efficiently, the arteries and veins need to be flexible and free from any blockages.

One way of assessing an individual's risk of heart disease is to look at the ratio between the good and the bad cholesterol. We explain cholesterol ratios here.

High LDL Cholesterol Dangers

High LDL levels in our bloodstream have been shown to cause a build-up of plaque on the artery walls. This decreases the ability of blood to flow and increases blood pressure.

It is similar to what happens when you put your thumb over the end of a hose. Pressure increases in the hose, causing the water to shoot out further.

This build-up of plaque is referred to as hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis. The arteries become less flexible and cannot expand to let more blood flow when needed. Eventually, the atherosclerosis can become severe enough that it may lead to heart attack or stroke.

Cholesterol research has shown great healthy ways to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

HDL, on the other hand works to prevent plaque from building up on the walls of the arteries.

Another type of fat in our bloodstream are triglycerides. Increased levels of triglycerides are also known to be a precursor to heart disease.

Read our discussion of the causes of high triglycerides.

How are they different from the causes of high cholesterol.

How Is Cholesterol Measured?

Since high cholesterol and high triglycerides are precursors to coronary heart disease, it is important to have our cholesterol tested. This test is called a Lipid Test and is performed on a blood sample.

A lipid test will give results for:

  • Total Cholesterol
  • HDL Cholesterol
  • LDL Cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

The results of a lipid test can be confusing. Here is an explanation of what are normal cholesterol numbers and what the numbers mean.

If you wish to check your cholesterol frequently, you may want to consider home cholesterol tests.

Lowering Cholesterol Resources is loaded with information on how to deal with high cholesterol. Understanding what is cholesterol is just the beginning. Continue exploring this site. The ideas you read here will put you on your way to a heart healthy lifestyle.

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